These are a Few of My Favorite Things

These are a Few of My Favorite Things
These are a Few of My Favorite Things

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What is a Barrister's Bookcase?

To understand what a Barrister's bookcase is, one must first understand what a barrister is.  A barrister is a member of one of the two classes of lawyer found in many common law jurisdictions with split legal professions.  A barrister requires the use of many law books and may frequently move to new chambers.  A specialized form of portable bookcase has thus developed to meet their needs.  A barrister's bookcase consists of several separate shelf units that may be stacked together to form a cabinet.  An additional plinth and hood complete the piece.  When moving chambers, each shelf is carried separately without needing to remove its contents and becomes a carrying-case full of books.
As most high quality bookcases are closed by doors, but also to retain the books when being carried, a barrister's bookcase has glazed doors.  As the shelves must still separate it's not possible to provide the usual hinged doors opening sideways and so instead they use and "up and over" mechanism on each shelf.  The better quality cases use a metal scissor mechanism inside the shelves to ensure that the doors move in a parallel fashion without skewing and jamming.  Many of this style, exported worldwide, were made by the Skandia Furniture Co. of Rockford, Illinois around the beginning of the 20th century.
This style of bookcase was either made in a Dickensian period, or harkens back to the style of such times, so they're most commonly glazed with a leaded light and small panes of glass.
The true barrister's bookcase must be capable of each shelf being carried with a heavy load of books.  The more robust examples have folding handles at the ends of each shelf.  Modern "decorator" copies of these may look the same, but are often too lightly constructed to be carried whilst loaded, or may even be simply a single fixed case as per a normal bookcase, but with separate doors to each shelf to give the appearance of a barrister's bookcase.
One of the attractions of the barrister's bookcase is that the construction helps to provide a greater degree of protection than many types of bookshelves.  The glass doors help to limit the amount of dust that can settle on the books, which will help to keep the book collection in better overall shape.  Along with protecting the books from dust, it is also possible to outfit the doors with tempered glass that helps to minimize the impact of sunlight on the spines of the books, effectively helping to keep the color of the bindings from fading. 
While antique barrister bookcases can be quite expensive, there are a number of manufacturers that produce replica editions as well as modernized versions at reasonable prices.  Some versions are very simple in appearance, and will fitnin well with a number of different decorating themes.  It is not unusual for a homeowner to purchase one or more bookcases of this type, trim them with crown molding that is like that used elsewhere in the room, and create a customized storage source for very little cost.  Because the bookcase can easily be stacked, it is possible to use the barrister bookcase to create interesting wall units, sofa tables, or even a breakfront for a dining area.  Finding different versions of the barrister bookcase is not difficult.  Many antique shops will have elegant models for sale.  High-end retailers who cater to office and home furnishing needs will also have several models of the barrister bookcase for sale.  In addition, it may be possible to locate the ideal barrister bookcase for sale online or at an estate auction.
The barrister's bookcase above is from my own collection.  Clark and I inherited the true antique piece from my late stepfather.  Instead of books, Clark uses the piece to hold his collection of antique toys and collectibles.  It is in excellent condition and holds many memories for our family.
(facts in information taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

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